April 10, 2009
Why Not Manage Universities, Mr. President?By Paul Kengor
I hear it again and again, even from some pro-business conservatives:
Well, if that's so, then why doesn't the government intervene to run our universities, which consume huge amounts of government money? Why don't President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress dictate marching orders to university presidents? Why not fire the bad ones? Why aren't Barney Frank and Chris Dodd calling in provosts to explain themselves?
Think about it: Few things in our society are as costly as college education. From the moment parents look into their newborn's eyes, they begin saving for college -- the single greatest expense in their child's life. Entire life savings are dumped into college educations. Even then, that's not enough; student loans, with interest, are necessary.
My master's degree alone cost me so much -- after my parents poured everything into undergraduate educations for my brother, sister, and me -- that it took 10 years at almost $1,000 per month to pay it off. Homes in California are bargains compared to our nation's colleges. The cost of a degree is obscene.
And what about the product -- assuming the product graduates? Economically speaking, few graduates will achieve the hourly salary of their professors. Educationally speaking, these degreed citizens perform miserably in basic civic and economic literacy. (Check out the recent survey by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.)
And yet, consider the salaries of those running these universities, particularly those accepting the most government funding. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 59 public-university presidents received salaries exceeding $500,000 in 2007-8, up from 43 the previous year -- a healthy salary jack while many parents grappled with job losses.
Over at Barack Obama's and Bill Ayers' alma mater, Columbia University, President Lee C. Bollinger made $1,411,894 last year. John Sexton at NYU collected $1,324,874. Northwestern's Henry S. Bienen scraped by with $1,742,560. And Amy Gutmann of Penn raked in $1,088,786 -- a staggering 40% raise from the previous year, enough to make a Big Oil CEO green with envy.
And what about the Keynesian advising President Obama to deficit-spend our tax dollars to "prime the pump" during the recession? When Lawrence Summers recently left Harvard, he received a $2-million severance. That was on top of his annual salary of $714,005, not to mention his wife's salary (as a literature professor) of $179,056. Did I mention that Harvard provided the couple with a home?
Here's a question for Senator Chuck Schumer's staff: Have you compared the wage of these folks to the custodians who clean their offices? How about professors in Feminist Studies at Cal-Berkeley or at Columbia Teachers College vs. the stiffs who prepare their food in the cafeteria? The typical tenured professor spends under 10 hours per week in the classroom, and gets at least five full months of paid vacation. No one, from the little library lady to a GM fat-cat, enjoys those perks.
Talk about "Two Americas." If you boys on Capitol Hill want to fan the flames of class warfare, this is a tinderbox.
And yet, after all that, after taking tens of thousands of dollars per year from debt-ridden students and parents, on top of boatloads of government money, these colleges are screaming that they are broke. How can this be? Who's responsible? Why isn't Congress demanding hearings?
And I ask liberals: What could be as un-progressive as a mom and dad in Iowa, with a combined income under $60,000, sending their daughter to an elite Northeast university -- with their life savings not enough -- to float a bunch of PhDs who've accumulated more cash in 10 years than "mom and dad" in a lifetime?
So, why isn't President Obama reining in our colleges? Why isn't Nancy Pelosi demanding accountability?
Alas, here's the dirty little secret: Liberal Democrats see no reason to investigate universities. Why? Because colleges serve as the popular front for advancing the left's agenda. They are essentially recruiting grounds for Democratic Party voters and activists.
Our universities are the most monolithic institutions in America. There may be more ideological diversity in the Taliban. Here are few figures:
A 2007 study by sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University found that liberal faculty outnumber conservatives by 11-1 among social scientists and 13-1 among humanities professors. That's consistent with a long line of surveys, which tend to find self-identified liberals around 80-90% and conservatives around 10%.
It has been that way for decades. I have a folder jammed with studies. One of my favorites is an early 1990s poll that found 88% of "public affairs" faculty identifying themselves as liberal, 12% claiming to be "middle of the road," and, remarkably, 0% opting for the conservative label.
A 2003 survey by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture found these ratios of Democrats to Republicans: Swarthmore: 21-1. Bowdoin College: 23-1. Wellesley College: 23-1. Brown University: 30-1. Amazingly, the study couldn't identify a single Republican at the faculties of Williams, Oberlin, MIT, and Haverford, nor a single Republican administrator at Penn, Carnegie Mellon, or Cornell.
Analyses of Cornell found 166 liberals compared to six conservatives; at UCLA, 141 liberals vs. nine conservatives.
I could go on and on. Remember that academia champions "diversity."
Keep in mind, too, that these figures are fully out-of-sync with the public and parents who hand their children to these professors. For at least two decades now, the number of self-identified conservatives among the overall population has ranged near 40%, whereas self-identified liberals hover around 20%, holding steady even in the last election that elected Barack Obama.
Thus, the liberal Democrats running the federal government have no complaint about our universities. They share the same worldview, and the professors pass the faith to the students.
Indeed, consider the results of the November 2008 election, in which college-aged voters came out in droves -- nearly one in five voters, or about 25 million ballots -- and went for Obama by more than two to one. As I noted in this space before, those voters alone well exceeded Obama's overall vote advantage. It was truly the college crowd that elected Obama.
So, this is perfect for Obama and his fellow Democrats. Why change a thing?
But actually, it's even worse than that. These professors funnel not only students to the Democratic Party. In 2004, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found that the top two institutions in the country, in terms of employee per-capita contributions to presidential candidates, were Harvard and the University of California system -- both of which gave 19 times more money to John Kerry than to George W. Bush.
Another 2004 analysis, by Andrew Sullivan, found that of the nearly 800 donations made to the Kerry and Bush campaigns by Ivy League professors, 92% went to Kerry.
I haven't seen an analysis of 2008, but I'm sure it's worse.
Maybe I'm being unfair. Perhaps these learned institutions don't get enough money from the life-savings and bank borrowing of students and parents, and really do need a lifeline from Uncle Sam, plus a second lifeline from their states?
Nonsense. I teach at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, which takes no government money, the result of standing for its principles of faith and freedom before the U.S. Supreme Court. The college is not wasteful; our students graduate in four years with extraordinary placement in jobs and grad schools; our students get aid through a privatized loan program; the college is listed as one of the "best buys" in higher education; it is certainly no bastion of secular liberalism; and its students score exceptionally well in surveys and tests. (Grove City College scored second in the nation in the aforementioned ISI survey.)
Sadly, though, Grove City College is the exception. The rule is what our rulers in Washington desire.
So, don't expect any AIG-like show trials of college presidents, nor President Obama firing the president of Columbia. Don't expect higher taxes on cushy contracts. Don't expect a push to cap salaries or freeze tuition or regulate rising costs.
Nope, there will be no demonization of rampant "greed" in this sector of the American workplace. There are only angels running our universities -- liberal angels.
Paul Kengor is author of The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperPerennial, 2007) and professor of political science at Grove City College.